Tuesday, April 3, 2012

[AeroTuesday] "Permanent Vacation" (1987)

Before we go any further, let’s acknowledge something right off the bat: No Permanent Vacation, no Aerosmith discussion in 2012.  Or in 2002.  Or in 1992.  Whatever its relative musical merits, this album and its enormous popularity are the reason Aerosmith still fill large venues.  After the commercial one-two non-punch of Rock in a Hard Place and Done with Mirrors, it was clearly this album or never for Aerosmith as far as the bean-counters, not to mention contract holders, were concerned.  You may or may not love the album, but if you’re a fan you’ve gotta love what it did for the band.

For me, it’s neither love nor hate.  I’m burned out on the three hit singles (“Dude [Looks Like a Lady]”, “Rag Doll”, “Angel”) due to sheer radio overkill through the years, and also due to the fact that not a single one of ‘em is truly a first rate Aero-tune for me.  “Rag Doll” simply isn’t lyrically clever enough; “Dude” is as slight-and-silly as it gets (great use of horns, though), and “Angel” is Bon Jovi with class and style.  Which, right, makes it better than actual Bon Jovi, but it hardly makes it a match for the likes of “Home Tonight” in the ballad sweepstakes.

Some of the deep tracks have a bit more to offer: “Simoriah” is a particularly interesting little critter, a song that can’t quite seem to decide if it wants to be quirky power-pop or slick corporate rock fare and ends up a lovable, if beguiling, cross between the two.  Both “St. John” and “Hangman Jury” have a whole lot more to do with authentic, heavy blues than the nature of the album’s hit singles would ever lead you to believe.  As for the slick, slightly too clean hard rock that permeates most of the album, the opening combo of “Heart’s Done Time” and “Magic Touch” threaten to give the form a good name; honestly, it’s always surprised me that neither of them was ever tapped as a potential fourth hit single.

Part of my problem with Permanent Vacation has always been its downright bizarre last quarter, kicking off with the mind-boggling Jimmy Buffett pastiche that serves as the album’s title track. I’ve never even been able to decide if it’s any good or not; it’s just a song so blatantly performed by the absolute wrong band that it makes the needle in my head skip.  What comes after that, you ask?  A Beatles cover, naturally: while their spin on “I’m Down” is pleasant enough, it feels like little more than filler.  It would make a nice single b-side, and that's exactly where it belongs.  After that, we close the whole thing off with an instrumental, “The Movie”, which sounds like something you’d never bother to notice if it played over the closing credits of one.  To say this album completely runs out of steam at the end would be quite the understatement.

In the end, it’s okay but not much more than that.  The production values sound horribly dated to me; the cavernous reverb drenched over both the drums and the vocals lead me to the second Bon Jovi comparison of this review and, frankly, that’s just not what I want out of my Aerosmith.  It’s all a shade too generic, a shade too song-doctored, and several shades too clean to be as bad for you as the best Aerosmith should be.  I’m grateful that it managed to re-ignite the band’s commercial standing.  I’m even more grateful that their next album managed to bring their commercial and artistic instincts much more in sync with one another.

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